New Circuit to Support North East Oregon Churches


January 1st 2013 ushered in the return of the circuit rider to North East Oregon. On that day, the United Methodist congregations of Elgin, Cove, La Grande, North Powder and Union strengthened their connection by becoming the North East Oregon (NEO) Circuit. This circuit is similar to the circuits of old in that a single Elder will make the rounds of the congregations, providing preaching, sacraments and administration. But, instead of each congregation functioning as a lonely mission outpost, the five churches will provide worship, ministry and music in a partnership of laity, Lay Persons Assigned, Certified Lay Servants, a retired elder and an active elder in full connection. Steve Wolff (pictured right), who has served three-quarter time at La Grande United Methodist Church for the past 18 months, has added one-quarter time as the circuit supervising pastor. When asked about this new ministry Steve responded, “I have been serving local churches for 22 years, and this is one of the most exciting ministries I’ve been involved in. At our 2012 Annual Conference, our Bishop reminded us just how essential each of our local congregations is. This is not a last chance option for any of these churches. This is a next chance model for how to do church everywhere.”

While efficient utilization of resources is a part of the model, the real key is to equip the laity to provide worship and disciple making ministries across the Grande Ronde Valley. The coordinating pastor will be based in the La Grande congregation, rotating through the circuit one Sunday a month preaching, teaching and providing sacraments. While distances are large (nearly 100 miles from one edge to edge), modern transportation allows for plenty of non-Sunday contact between the elder and the congregations. Lay Servants and Lay Assigned pastors will attend to regular preaching duties, with liturgists in each congregation providing the local anchor for each community’s worship. The circuit will also have a music director, Josh Peters, who will help develop and coordinate traveling ensembles to provide regular music in each setting. Administrative coordination will come through a council of Lay Leaders. According to District Superintendent, Kim Fields, “Though the supervising pastor will be based in the La Grande church, this is not a first step in a plan to merge churches or in any way dilute their individual identities. Each of the congregations has strengths to offer and role to fill in its local community. The plan is to maintain local identity while strengthening the United Methodist connection.”

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